T Nation

Upper Chest Dilema


Hi Guys,

I've been trying to develop my 'concave' upper chest for the past year with very little success. No matter how I hit it, it won't grow. I only do upper chest to mid chest work now, but it's just not happening. I'll give a couple of examples of exercises I've done and where I feel sore the following day or see progress in the mirror.....

  1. DB/BB Incline Press, low incline/mid incline: Shoulders and side mid chest!
  2. DB/BB Floor presses: Shoulders, Tri's and side chest.
  3. Fly's, cable or DB: mid chest and a little shoulders.
  4. Any machine: lower and mid chest!
  5. Pullovers: lats and tri's.
  6. Push up of any sort: side chest, shoulders and Tri's.

I don't even do specifically lower exercises anymore, I keep trying to hit the upper chest, with no success. I have tried neck/guillotine presses on a flat bench but i feel anything heavier than the 12-15 rep range damages my shoulders.... in that they feel pretty bad and click for a couple of days.

I was thinking of blasting the shit out of my shoulders (DB overhead press and front raises) and then hitting the upper chest, so that the delts would be well fatigued and perhaps my upper pec would finally pump up and GROW. But I'm also thinking that I will loose a good amount of stability and so won't be able to press heavy.....

Any suggestions?


How much has your incline bench gone up since a year ago?


pre-exhausting your shoulders prior to incline pressing seems to work well for some people.

do guillotine presses at your own risk. if I want more pec stimulation than I'm getting from BB press, I will probably switch to db's or use machines with more of an emphasis on muscle stimulation than executing the movement.

I usually feel the most pec stimulation at the bottom and the top of the press. at the top, I don't lock out my elbows hard and consciously try to squeeze my pecs (not my shoulders) to stabilize the bar at the top. what's your rom like and how do you execute the movement?

also, the weight used is relative to how well you use it to stimulate the target muscle, but generally if you aren't pressing a whole lot of weight for reps (say, <1.5pps x10) then that could also be your problem.


Beat me to it.
OP, choosing to prioritize upper chest is only the first step. If your strength has not gone up significantly over many months on upper chest work then there is nothing to worry about.

My upper chest grew after many months of putting incline smith first in my workout and adding 75lb to it or so.


My incline pressing hasn't improved significantly... about 7 Kg's since Jan. But that's not 7 Kg on a 200Kg incline press, more like 7 Kg on 100Kg. -Not spectacularly strong.

My ROM is pretty good, I do a lot of flexibility stuff, so that helps. I find in the lower part of pressing movements that my shoulders are taking the brunt and the top half my chest and tri's kick in... I also do not lock out, but try to keep emphasis on pecs.

I've tried pressing movement like Dr. Clay suggests; in a U type shape, ending up with the bar more or less above my eye line... that only blasted my delts more.


how does the rest of your chest look?


Ok, what are your goals exactly? That is very, very damn slow progress for someone your strength level and no matter what technique you use on the inclines or how much volume, that won't amount to much of an increase in muscular size...

How much bodyweight have you gained in that timeframe? Post your overall cal intake per day, protein intake, complete program (+ periodization of whatever kind you use, if you do)...

Make sure you familiarize yourself with the standard setup cues (shoulder blades together etc, press through your feet, all that stuff), that should take care of any ROM issues at the bottom as long as you don't have some sort of injury. Then choose the right grip for your build (experiment, mine is with pinkies on the power rings) to help with keeping the chest in...
That plus incline DB and/or incline hammerstrength work ought to work in most cases.

Also, what angle is the incline bench you use?

Best would be if you could also post a video of your regular incline straight from the side (mostly to see if your elbows stay under the bar at the bottom) and straight from the front or back (grip, elbow path from that angle).

As far as good news go... Your problem should be relatively easy to fix from what I'm reading here.


is your chest actually moving the weight? probably the most important question. if your not feeling your upper chest move the weight maybe its a form issue.



Look at how its attached and you can see how modifying an existing exercise will help to focus more on this portion of the muscle.

The best isolation exercise Ive found for myself so far involves tweaking a cable incline press. I cant find a video on youtube that shows the way I do them, so Ill post this one that has a hot chick and describe how Id do it differently.

First off the cables need to be set much lower than she has them. To start the movement you want to have your elbows tucked close to your sides at the bottom of the lift with grip neutral. As you begin the movement you want to slowly flare the elbows so that the hands are pronated and close together at the top. You need to really squeeze the upper chest at the top like you are attempting to touch your inner elbows together. Shit I wish I had a video would be so much easier to show than explain.


Ever tried incline benching with a neutral grip?

Ever tried incline presses in strictly the stretched position?

Cables help too.


Blackagger..... the rest of my chest isn't great, but it has improved especially side and middle chest.

C. Carnage..... I'm taking in around 4,500 Cal's a day, it's not enough though though, I'm not seeing much size gain overall.... that is an issue. (but in saying that my side and mid chest have improved)
Did a regular BB type workout during the summer, then 6 weeks of GVT, now I'm hitting 5/3/1 for the past 4 weeks to get my strength up..... I always pinch my shoulders back for flat benching, but never for incline's, maybe that is a factor alright...... Should I have my shoulders pinched for all chest work (fly's, etc.)???? Surely, that would make the movement quiet uncomfortable?

Gl:itch.e................. that looks like an interesting exercise, def feel a pump I'd say. Where would you put it in; towards the end of the WO?

Would starting of with incline fly's and cable presses, ala Gl;itch.e's suggestion, then on to incline DB presses and other stuff be the way to go???? I'm still quiet interested in pre-exhausting the shoulders too.

So many questions..............


IMO.......where strength goes, size is sure to follow.
Whatever movement or technique you select will only matter if you can make progress over time. I think you change routines to often. 5/3/1 will take two to three rounds (9-12 weeks) before you are 'in the groove' of the routine. Then the work begins.


JJ- is that you in your avatar? if it's not you why do you have a man in a silver mask as your avatar.

if that is you, then well you're on the right track (minus the fruity mask) as blucollertr8n mentioned stick w/ something for a while once you know it's taxing the area your targeting.

my chest isn't huuggge but it's in accordance w/ the rest of me. when i began i couldn't do 30-40dergee incline db presses w/ even the 35's for reps....few yrs and pounds later/heavier i handle up to the 110's for reps.

magic is my upper chest is bigger. being a skinny dude to begin w/ i made incline pressing the staple of my chest day, only now yrs later do i not always do incline work first.

most folks who complain they don't have a big chest don't have a big anything, in most cases. if something IS lagging make it your priority, make the shitty thing your #1 thing to train. priority principle.


Im not positive because i dont remember that specific shot in the movie but i think his avi is Bale from American Psycho

and to the ope, for myself my upper chest took off once i started using a wider grip on incline with elbows tucked


Depends on goals. For me Chest is low on my priorities. If I wanted to build this area more than overall chest mass or shoulders (which is my current focus) Id put this exercise first and then a heavy BB Bench after.


I think this is the most important thing for focusing on upper chest. They need to start the movement from a stretch (helping to raise the arm with deltoid assistance) and finish with a squeeze at the top. DB and BB Pressing/flyes only allows a partial range of motion on this muscle though.


cyruseven75.... nah, that's Bale in American Psycho.... Man, if I was in his shape, I don't think I'd be worried.

Blackagger and Gl;tch.e.... can you guys explain the elbows tucked from the beginning, please. I've benched quite wide before, and then tucked my elbows as I lowered, but i remember my elbows being flared when I unracked the bar. I can't visualize the movement; wide grip but elbows tucked, maybe I just need to try it.

BlueCollarTr8n..... I agree, 5/3/1 needs a couple of runs, I've just done 4 weeks and am planning on another 12. I don't feel that i change too often, GVT was for 6 weeks, I think GVT at 6 is plenty, especially if you add weight every time you max 10x10. I am hoping to gain a good amount of strength and size with 5/3/1, perhaps my upper chest will finally grow.


best way i can describe is as you start to lower the bar down bring your elbows close to your torso instead of flared outwards, this isnt comfortable for everyone though


-Weak Incline Press: check
-Very small improvements on incline press: check
-Not eating enough to grow overall: check
-Hopping from program to program: check

...what exactly is still being discussed here?

Put another 10 years of consistent heavy training under the bar...THEN assess what bodyparts are truly "lagging."


Cheers Blackagger, I'll give it a go.

.... and thanks jskrabac for that.